Manipulated video from a recent shoot at Clay Patrick McBride's studio in Williamsburg.
The Analyst At Work: Comments on “A New Dimension”
By Paris Ionescu
Paul McLean’s career as an artist, cultural critic, researcher, and new media pioneer has taken numerous storied turns, hewing here towards typifying the protagonist in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas, and there towards the scene-irrupting subculture of Chinatown, L.A., transversing the world of Chris Kraus’ Tiny Creatures.
The work exhibited in “A New Dimension” is akin to a cross-section along the escarpment of what is a tremendously variegated larger body of work that McLean has established. The crux, and delight, of getting to know McLean’s practice, particularly his concept of dimensionality, is the requirement of a staid and highly meriting patience, both to see the work on its own wild (as in a Wild West or yonder of the mind) yet rigorous terms, as well as to grasp the organon of methods and tools he uses to expound upon and measure “dimensional” artmaking and markmaking against the evident realities of the contemporary era (the etymology of the word dimension, appropriately, stems from the Latin dimens, a measurement). The contemporary era, qua McLean’s work, has much in common with what Alain Badiou calls the Second Restoration - the first having been the period after the French Revolution - in which capital dominates, and thinking is abhorred, for its correlate is Truth, which necessarily brings with it the prospect of an abrogation of the current status quo in which the rich and powerful exploit the resource of unthinking in order to capitalize every social space that ought to remain constantly tested, unfolded, expanded ludically towards humanist ends. McLean’s work can be argued as dwelling in the struggle between humanity’s burden of technicity, - thought after production - and its potentially saving grace, spirit - or, preferable to McLean, Geistes in the sense Hegel gave to it – and this makes him, in every analysis, a spiritual-humanist artist. Not least, the works on display also address the threat that media manipulation and over-exposure can have on this Geistes, as well as the threat of the abstract apparatuses of global finance to Thought, in that, as Badiou also deplores, we are further divorced from indexicality, and the ‘chance’ of phenomenology has been replaced by an artificial chance of floating numbers, a crisis which in turn is enabled by what McLean labels ‘artificial persons’, namely the Corporation.
This remark leads one to the visual motifs that connect the span of media in which McLean works. The first misunderstanding to be eschewed in engaging McLean’s work is that of reading its iconography as hackneyed symbols of the paranoiac and outsider envisioning an Orwellian dystopic future, a Gibsonian gasmask culture that is the stuff of graphic novels more often than critical art. Granted, McLean’s use of such signifiers as the surveillant cycloptic eye, the sewn-shut mouth, the vaguely militaristic Americana swirling in the space around the recurring character the artist names Dim Tim, is earnest, but the signifieds, read in appropriately post-Panofskian terms in which the social history of the artist and his relations to the historical period’s technics are observed, are not purely what they seem.
For McLean, the imagery choices in each drawing, painting, software-based collage, or video vignette, act as so many points of departure for the establishment of a given problem, perhaps most adequately referred to in the sense given by Deleuze and Guattari of a generative motor (although McLean is clearly wary of the culture of the combustible, as Peter Sloterdijk defines our past century), to be resolved or at least developed by the work as it stands within a series of artistic proofs, as if in its own military role call. No single work of McLean’s is fully activated by itself; each is related, answered to, by a similar variation to be sleuthed and found elsewhere in the corpus of McLean’s artist-as-researcher practice. Michael Baers has written recently on the research-oriented tack certain strains of art have taken in recent years, and reminds us of the dual etymology of the word science: its Latin origin scientia, “to know,” and its Greek origin scienzia, “to split, rend, or cleave.” In the progressive format McLean’s works take on - from sketch to painting, to computer rendering, to textual essay – we gain knowledge of the four-dimensional nature (that is, existing in space-time or, in certain cases, perhaps other unseen aspects of their presentness) of his subjects, whether like Bloomberg their politics are being expressly critiqued, or whether like Pueblo Native Americans their spiritual history is being depicted. This is done, indeed, via a splitting into various artistic operations, not least where the artist’s love of experimenting with materials is evident, but more often than not McLean takes the splitting aspect of science and mounts it upon his own committed interpretation of a Hegelian dialectics whereby the results are to be negated and re-synthesized until something new and unknown enters the picture.